That's not where Angela works

I took the bus to the main train station this morning to catch a train to one of my many talks I give around the country. I was upstairs on the double bus, there were only 4 of us there. One was a young girl, maybe 14 or 15, with a video camera. She was filming the entire ride and telling her camera what she was seeing right now.

Except that she was getting it wrong.

After the Reichstag she trained the camera on the Paul-Löbe-Haus, an office building, and started to describe this as being where Angela Merkel works and has her official guests like the Prince of Wales and all. This was too much for the rather disheveled gentleman sitting across the aisle from her. "No!" he said, "she lives on the other side of the road!"

The girl looked shocked, and she didn't want to believe the guy. I came to his rescue, said: "He's right, she lives and works over here." He grinned, and the girl dashed over to the other side of the bus, apologizing to the camera that she had made a mistake and that Angela worked over here.

Anyone want to bet that the video is now on YouTube?

No Chairs

Last week I complained to the powers-that-be through our magic web-site complaint form that I needed more chairs in my lecture hall. I have 48 people and there are only 40 chairs on a good day. As much as I like having good-looking young men looking up at me, I think they need chairs to learn properly.

The custodian came to my office to explain the problem yesterday. In the electronic system for lecture halls the room is listed as having 44 seats. There is only one lecture hall that has more chairs, and it is booked solid. Saturdays at 8.00 anyone?

According to the security engineer, the room is only designed for 40 people. So theoretically I should count noses and request that the 8 people who come in last go home.

Just as I finished saying this at the start of class, the last 8 people walked in and started complaining that there were no chairs.....


Move your butt

Bizarre scene on the bus:

I was just hopping down a few stops (a transferable monthly pass is great) on the bus to get a present, so I didn't sit down but stood, leaning against a railing. There's a cushion there, with an integrated seat. An older man (I can't really call him a gentleman) was sitting on the seat up front for the elderly. A very old woman got on and requested that seat, so he got up, complaining that he needed to sit, too, but loudly stating that a gentleman of course gave up a seat for a lady.

I was expecting him to ask me if he could use the seat, but I wasn't expecting it like this. He patted my rear-end (!) and said "Move your butt, I want to sit down!"

I was shocked! I said to him sternly that it was sufficient for him to ask me for the seat, he did not have to involve my posterior. He shot back that he did ask me and I have to give it to him. The lady standing next to me just shook her head, but the middle-aged guy across the aisle jumped in.

"You shut your trap! You have no right to act this way!". The older guy kept muttering that he had the right to sit down, etc.

I was happy that we reached my stop and I could get off this crazy bus.


Torn Curtain

At the Hitchcock exhibition we saw a lot of bits and pieces of the movie Torn Curtain, which was partially filmed in Berlin. So we decided to watch it this evening, as it was in our complete collection of Hitchcock DVDs.

As many have said - it is not the best film by Hitchcock. I keep expecting Julie Andrews to burst out in "The hills are alive" everytime she is on camera. Paul Newmann looks gorgeous, but I don't see him as a physicist.

The film was mostly shot in studio, as they could not film in East Berlin, although there is a scene with some "Plattenbau" that I think can only be found in East Berlin. Only a few of the actors speak correct German (or Swedish, in the final scene). They appear to be American actors pretending to be Germans.

I would love to have a clear view of the mathematics to see what they are writing. They just mumble "omega" on occasion, and Prof. Lindt does, actually, write a small omega on camera.

A rather contrived spy story, but not bad for a Friday evening movie.


Lonesome Socks

In a fit of housewifely energy I attacked the sock basket. This is where we throw all clean socks that cannot immediately be paired. I managed to match up quite a few of the myriad black sock collection (many years ago we got 12 pairs of identical socks for WiseKid. That made this job very easy for his socks).

This is what was left. All these lonesome socks. Where are their partners?

O Canada

This is really quite bizarre. It does, indeed, seem as if I woke up Canadian this past Friday, on account of my mother having been a Canadian citizen when I was born. The next brother on down is in the same state, for our youngest brother it will depend on how they interpret it. Since she is now again Canadian by decree, he might still be considered Canadian, too.

So things Canadian are coming back to me - songs, visits to Canada, my mom going on and on about the symbolism in the Canadian maple leaf flag (although, according to the Canadian Heritage site the eleven points do not stand for the 10 provinces and 1 territory), Canadian holidays like Dominion Day, and saying "eh" at the end of every other sentence.

My Mom had to obtain American citizenship in order to teach, and she had to be married to an American for four years in order to apply for citizenship. The Americans at that time, like the Germans today, made people give up their old citizenship. Canada also officially reinstated the citizenship of all Canadians who were forced to give up their citizenship. So it's pretty much just my Dad left out of this!

WiseMan remarked this evening that I change my citizenship more often than WiseKid changes his underpants, which is a gross exaggeration.

Anyway, I printed out a Canadian flag for my office door this morning, and wore Mom's maple leaf pin.


Waking up Canadian

Just discovered that I woke up Canadian on Friday. Rather bizarre.....



Marlene and Hitch

Today's tourist program included a visit to the German film museum at Potsdamer Platz. They have two current exhibits, one on Alfred Hitchcock and one on Loriot.

We started off with a visit to the grave of Marlene Dietrich just around the corner from us. We took the train over to Potsdamer Platz, meeting another film-crazy, non-German friend. We started up in the Hitchcock exhibition.

Wow. The precision and detail that he prepared for shooting a film was just tremendous! He only had typewriters and telegraphs for communication, but had all sorts of people involved in his productions and he planned his camera angles down to the tiniest of details.

Marlene played in a number of his films, so it was cool to see her there.

Hitch planned the sound design with just as much detail, for example, using Oscar Sala's Trautonium for producing the horrible bird sounds for "The Birds". He also used many matte paintings done in excrutiating detail for shooting many scenes that he could not otherwise do.

There was a film corner showing interview Hitchcock gave German television stations - in German, he was very accomplished at speaking German. And they had a selection of his cameo appearances in his films.

We shall have to have a Hitchcock film evening very soon!

The Germans continued to the Loriot exhibition, non-Germans just do not get Loriot, so I went right to the film history bit. The other non-German decided to give Loriot a try, but joined me in the history part within 10 minutes.

Germany had such a rich early history in movie making, but after the Third Reich used it for its propaganda it never really seems to have recovered. Oh, there's the occasional good filmmaker here and there, but I think Iceland has the same number - and far, far fewer people.

There were rooms and rooms dedicated to Marlene Dietrich: her clothes, jewellry, luggage, letters, fotos, etc. One had a bit of the feeling of being a voyeur. But the letters were fascinating to read.

By the time I hit the after-war films, I was on overload, so I just zipped through the East/West part, that will have to wait for another day, and we all met back up at "Billy Wilder's" for coffee/late lunch.

Very much worth a visit if you are in Berlin and like film!


Tour de Toilette

As always, we only seem to enjoy the touristy side of Berlin when we have visitors.

Our current visitor determined from home that there was to be a "Tour de Toilette" on Saturday, led by Anna Haase, a Berlin tour guide. That sounded like fun, and since I once read parts of the chapter from the 1910 "Lexikon der Gesamte Technik" on the topic of Bedürfnisanstalten aloud as part of a celebration at school and had them laughing in the aisles, I made a copy of that article for her and joined in.

We started off at the French Cathedral at the Gendarmenmarkt, where there is a restored and fully functional "Café Octagon". Instead of having 7 urinals on the inside, however, there is one side for the ladies - a little room with a door and a wash bowl outside and two urinals and a washbowl for the gents. The urinals have little bugs painted on the spot that is to be aimed for. There are apparently quite a number of such "targets" painted on urinals, goal posts are said to be popular.

She wanted to show us the modern toilets on the other side of the Gendarmenmarkt, but it was now working and she couldn't even get it open with her key. Apparently, handicapped people (and toilet tour guides) can get a key to open all (working) outdoor bathrooms all over Germany.

She showed us some pictures of old bathrooms that have not been preserved for posterity. Some included innovative airing systems that vented the, um, bad air up through the gas latern. Or maybe the gas was used to fire the lanterns....

We walked through the sunny afternoon to the Friedrichstraße station, where we got to visit the luxury stalls without having to pay. For an Euro you get a clean place to go, for seven you can rent a shower (one member of the tour group noted that a five-person family could comfortable shower in there) including towels.

A short train ride took us to the Potsdamer Platz, where we got to go into the Kaisersaal after taking a look at the Kaiser's own urinal. Think marble, although I always though marble and urine didn't go together well. It was quite a grand place, and kind of cool to be visiting the gent's rooms.

We decided not to continue on to the restaurant "Das Klo", where we could have eaten sitting on a commode and had toilet brushes (hopefully unused) and other toilet accessories. Instead, we headed home for a nice meal. It was an interesting day, though!


I like BlueJ

I'm using BlueJ to teach programming this semester. I had heard about it for a few years, but was too lazy to change. I had the feeling, though, that I was getting bored with the n+1 time around the same old syllabus. I have been adamant about students having to work with Real Tools so that they learn to deal with Real Life Complexity. But there are quite a number who find Eclipse so daunting, that they give up.

But designing a new curriculum would take a lot of work. I was undecided on what to do, tended to spend evenings playing Scrabble on Facebook instead of working out exercises. Then a former student sent me a link to BlueJ, and I followed the link - and was fascinated by what I saw.

The environment is quite visual - and extremely object-oriented. I obtained the book by Barnes & Kölling and found that it was just my style!

The first lecture yesterday started with objects - yeah! After a short discussion on modelling, for which I used a collection of WiseKid's toy cars we had in the basement, and a few definitions on the board, we dove into the environment. What really pleased me was how visual it was - inspecting the state showed only what you need to know, not all the stuff Eclipse has in the debugger. It is paired down to just what you need to teach.

The class really got into the session. I had so many hands in the air and people anxious to say something. Some even had to repeat what we just said, but they wanted to say, too, that they saw what was happening. I had questions we could very simply answer with the environment, good questions too.

And what a joy when I got the email today from the re-incarnation of Stu Dent (there is always one in every class), regretting that he could not attend my introduction day or the first lecture but could I please send him the slides because he can't find them in Moodle. "Sorry, Stu. No slides. We work at the board and hands-on." How retro - and how good for teaching!


Vernon God Little

I just scooped up something to take with me to the spa to read last weekend, and inadvertently got one I had already read and then "Vernon God Little" by the Australian-Mexican author DBC Pierre, so it was this or nothing. At least it won the Booker prize in 2003.

I was so fascinated, that I finished the book during Saturday!

It was hard getting into the book at first - the teenage boy narrator (very Catcher-in-the-Rye) uses the F-word approximately 3.5 times per sentences, and since the book takes place in Texas, people are constantly using wrong words that sort of sound like what they really want to say (not that any of it really has meaning).

The book deals with life in Texas, teenage boys, gravely obese people, homosexuality, amok shooting sprees, the Texas Penal system, the death penalty, and all sorts of bits and pieces of Americana.